Variety pays off for OSF

OSF's commitment to variety pays off with third-highest attendance

Aclassic Broadway musical and a surreal new play about soldiers facing a firing squad lit up the turnstiles at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland this year.

"My Fair Lady" in the Angus Bowmer Theatre and "The Unfortunates" in the Thomas Theatre both filled 99 percent of their available seats.

By the numbers: Oregon Shakespeare Festival's 2013 season, its 78th

"The Taming of the Shrew"

By William Shakespeare

Angus Bowmer Theatre

89 percent capacity

"Two Trains Running"

By August Wilson

Angus Bowmer Theatre

87 percent capacity

"My Fair Lady"

By Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe

Angus Bowmer Theatre

99 percent capacity

"A Streetcar Named Desire"

By Tennessee Williams

Angus Bowmer Theatre

87 percent capacity

"Tenth Muse"

By Tanya Saracho

Angus Bowmer Theatre

81 percent capacity

"King Lear"

By William Shakespeare

Thomas Theatre

89 percent capacity

"The Unfortunates"

By Jon Beavers, Casey Hurt, Ian Merrigan and Ramiz Monsef

Thomas Theatre

99 percent capacity

"Liquid Plain"

By Naomi Wallace

Thomas Theatre

98 percent capacity

"Cymbeline"

By William Shakespeare

Elizabethan Stage

63 percent capacity

"The Heart of Robin Hood"

By David Farr

Elizabethan Stage

88 percent capacity

"A Midsummer Night's Dream"

By William Shakespeare

Elizabethan Stage

78 percent capacity

A new play commissioned by the OSF's American Revolutions history cycle, Naomi Wallace's "The Liquid Plain," was right behind those two, playing to 98 percent of capacity in a run that went from July to November.

The OSF's 78th season ended Sunday with a total attendance of 405,328.

"This was our third-highest year," said Amy Richard, OSF media and communications manager.

Attendance for the eight-month season was up more than 3 percent over 2012. Ticket revenue was $19.6 million, an increase of more than 7 percent over last year.

The season featured 11 productions with a total of 805 performances.

The OSF's record attendance was 414,000 in 2010. Second was 410,000 in 2009.

Student attendance for 2013 was 66,975, and the OSF's education department put on 928 education events throughout the season, selling 32,349 tickets.

Conventional wisdom has it that audiences are leery of new plays, with which they are by definition unfamiliar. Richard said that didn't seem to be the case this year at OSF, with tickets flying out the door for "The Unfortunates" and "The Liquid Plain."

The world premiere of Tanya Saracho's "The Tenth Muse" filled 81 percent of the seats in the Bowmer. Yet another new play, David Farr's "The Heart of Robin Hood," led the three plays produced on the Elizabethan Stage in attendance by selling 88 percent of its seats.

"I think people are really drawn to new work," Richard said.

Another piece of conventional wisdom — this one from the golden age of Hollywood — has it that Shakespeare is box-office poison. Regional Shakespeare festivals in England, the United States and Canada have long shown that that's not the case on the stage.

The OSF's 2013 productions of Shakespeare plays, however, did tend to lag behind more modern work taken as a group.

"The Taming of the Shrew" and "King Lear" led the pack, each at 89 percent of capacity. The usually popular "A Midsummer Night's Dream," however, ran at 78 percent of capacity. A critically acclaimed production of the seldom-produced "Cymbeline" did just 63 percent. The genre-bending play combines elements of comedy, tragedy and history.

August Wilson's "Two Trains Running" filled 87 percent of its seats in the Angus Bowmer Theatre. Tennessee Williams' "A Streetcar Named Desire" also did 87 percent.

One theme that emerges from the numbers is that the more seats you have, the harder it is to fill them. The intimate, 300-seat Thomas led the way, with only "Lear" under 98 percent of capacity this year. The 600-seat Bowmer entries were in the 80somethings except for the hot ticket of "My Fair Lady." In the 1,200-seat Elizabethan Stage, only "Robin Hood" broke the 80 percent mark.

For the season, the festival filled 87 percent of its seats. Richard said preparations for the 2014 season are well under way. Member ticket sales started this week, and previews of the 2014 season will begin Feb. 14.

Taking stock, Artistic Director Bill Rauch pointed in a statement to an "unprecedented number" of OSF plays performing across the country. Robert Schenkkan's "All the Way," which was developed at OSF and premiered there last year, had a successful run at American Repertory Theatre in Boston last fall, directed by Rauch. The production will move to Broadway early next year.

"The Liquid Plain" will be staged in 2014 at Baltimore's CenterStage. "American Night: The Ballad of Juan José," a 2010 American Revolutions play by Richard Montoya and Culture Clash, has had productions throughout the nation, including California Shakespeare Theatre, La Jolla Playhouse and Yale Repertory Theatre.

Director Mary Zimmerman's 2012 world-premiere adaptation of "The White Snake" completed a run at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, N.J., and will be staged at Chicago's Goodman Theatre.

Money rolled in from non-box-office sources as well as ticket sales. The OSF's Elizabethan Stage/Allen Pavilion was re-named the Allen Elizabethan Theatre after a $3 million grant from The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation. The OSF received a gift of $1 million from Ashland residents Judy Shih and Joel Axelrod to support new works, education and a redesign of the festival courtyard known as the Bricks.

The OSF broke ground on a new production shop in Talent and expects to begin moving to the building in 2014. Once everything is moved from the current production shop on First Street in Ashland, OSF will create a new rehearsal center in that space.

The 2014 season will open on Friday night, Feb. 21, in the Angus Bowmer Theatre with Shakespeare's "The Tempest." Previews will begin on Feb. 14, and the season will run through Nov. 2.

Bill Varble is a freelance writer living in Medford. Reach him at varble.bill@gmail.com.



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